Authors: Barbara Kaylor
Geneva smiled. “I can’t take credit, Grandpa. It was divinely inspired. The Lord planted the idea in my head. I had to do something to make a living, and I wasn’t about to leave you all alone here. He’s the one who did it all, and He’s the one who keeps me going.”
“Then stop feeling so bad about being fired from that job. Forgive that man, Geneva.” Perry knew his granddaughter still harbored a lot of resentment from the ordeal. “It’s what God wants you to do.”
“I know where you’re going with this, Grandpa.” Geneva pulled her long, curly tresses into a hand-held ponytail so the breeze could fan the dampness along her hairline at the back of her neck. “You still think that incident turned me off men, but you’re wrong. I’m not interested in anyone because I haven’t found anyone to be interested in. Short and simple. My disinterest in dating has nothing to do with Elliot Starling firing me.”
Perry knew better. He’d observed his granddaughter carefully the past six years since his beloved wife, Inez, died. Every time a guy asked Geneva out, she’d refuse with one excuse or another. Elliot Starling had taken away the confidence Geneva had gained in college.
Growing up heavier than most girls with shocking red, curly hair, and freckles all over her face, down her arms and legs, Geneva endured a lot of teasing, mostly from boys. Dance after dance, prom after prom passed without Geneva being asked. Then college came and so did the respite from all the teasing. Geneva took acting classes to overcome her shyness. She was a hit in several college plays. Her speaking abilities won her admiration from classmates and faculty members, too.
She slimmed up, straightened and colored her hair, found the right makeup to cover most of her freckles, and had guys begging for her number. After graduating with a marketing degree, she secured a job at Starling Art Supplies in Orlando. Perry and Inez purchased a used car for their granddaughter as a graduation gift and moved her to the big city.
It broke their hearts when Geneva called them four years later to say she’d been fired from a job she loved and right when she was expecting a promotion for landing the biggest account the company ever had. After moving back home, Geneva cried for days. She was crushed and furious with her boss, Elliot Starling.
Not long after, Inez got cancer. Perry saw Geneva’s presence back in the house as God’s plan. She took care of her grandmother and him. He didn’t like his granddaughter having to do so much work around the house instead of going out with friends, but Geneva never complained. She was in her element.
After Inez passed away, Geneva fell into a slump, not knowing what to do with herself. Perry suggested she move away and get another sales job, but Geneva insisted on staying in Holly Park. She helped him in the church and did volunteer work around town, but neither was challenging enough.
“You need to get out and do something, Geneva,” he had told her one day when she was moping around. The house stayed clean, the laundry was always done, and all the meals were balanced and creative. Geneva stayed on top of everything. “You work all day, keeping this place up. It’s taking all your life away.”
That got Geneva thinking. She put all her skills into one basket and started a ministry for women. Perry was ecstatic for her. They pooled their money and transformed the house into a six-bedroom inn for women, seeking spiritual encouragement and rest.
Geneva offered Bible studies, group discussions, and prayer sessions plus fun things like craft classes, skits, and talent nights. There was also time for being alone, hiking, and reading. It was a hit. From late February through October, the place stayed booked. Geneva didn’t have trouble finding part time help, either. Ladies from Perry’s church were always available and willing to do whatever needed to be done. They enjoyed earning a little income, teaching classes or helping in the kitchen or cleaning.
The retreats always started on Friday afternoons with a gab session and ended late Sunday afternoon with a prayer.
Perry was proud of the way his granddaughter had overcome her despair, but he was also worried about her. Every once in a while, when she didn’t know he was watching, he’d see sadness and loneliness in her green eyes. Whenever he asked about it, she’d brush it off as exhaustion or just plain old woolgathering. He didn’t believe her.
Several eligible men in the church had asked Perry if they could call on her, but Geneva was stubborn. Perry couldn’t get her to budge on the issue.
“I’d go out if I wanted to Grandpa,” she’d protest, emphatically. “I have my work to keep me busy now.”
Perry liked the idea of Geneva’s ministry for women and supported her efforts, but he couldn’t help wondering if she hid behind it. Things weren’t settled between Geneva and Elliot Starling. Perry sensed it. There was unfinished business between the two. Until there was closure, Geneva’s heart would remain off limits for any man.
“If you don’t need me, Geneva, I think I’ll take a nap so I’ll be rested for tonight’s service.” Perry stood and stretched out his arms. It’d been a long day, and it wasn’t over yet.
Geneva’s hands released the ponytail they were holding. Stunning red spirals collapsed down her back.
“When are you going to retire from preaching Grandpa?” Geneva asked for the hundredth time that weekend. She worried her grandfather was overdoing it. He never gave less than a hundred percent. Between church obligations and helping at the inn, he had a lot on his plate.
“When you marry.” He winked at her then strolled to the back of the house to his room.
Alone, Geneva lifted her head to the blue sky and silently thanked God for once again leading her through a successful ladies’ retreat. Sometimes, she felt like a cheat. She got more out of the weekends than her guests.
“Look at me now, Elliot Starling!” The smug remark slipped from Geneva’s mouth at the back end of her prayer like acid, burning a hole in her throat. Guilt rushed in, and Geneva leapt up. “I’ve got no time to think about you, Elliot! You’re out of my life forever. It’s like Grandpa said, getting fired was a blessing. That’s all it was. God’s plan to bring me home so I can start this ministry.”
Back inside the house, Geneva cleaned the kitchen then went to her room next to it and twisted her hair into a loose bun. She changed out of her Sunday clothes into a sundress she’d sewn and headed outside for a walk. The day was warm for March and sunny. Russell joined her with his nose to the ground in search of something interesting to chase.
Not far down the road, Geneva’s mind drifted to the sore subject of Elliot Starling. He was never far from her thoughts—or heart. She’d developed a crush on him almost immediately after he hired her, but it was futile. Elliot Starling enforced company policies which included no romances between management and subordinates. Geneva kept her feelings secret for four years while there, which was more than she could say for her rival, Olivia Swanson.
That woman was obnoxious when it came to Elliot. Everything Olivia did, she did to impress the boss and win his undivided attention. Geneva couldn’t play the same game. She wasn’t as confident or shameless as Olivia. Olivia would walk over her grandmother to get what she wanted. Geneva wouldn’t walk over an ant.
Elliot Starling was more prone to go after Olivia anyway, Geneva had decided long ago. Olivia was a classic beauty who didn’t have to work too hard to look nice and sophisticated. Unlike Geneva, who needed a complete makeover to even get the job. Once Geneva was hired, she had to keep up the glamorous façade. Elliot wanted his sales reps to look like they were money-makers. The dress code was strict. Suits, heels, no flashy jewelry, well-groomed, subtle makeup. Geneva did her best with what she had to work with.
Most of her disposable income went to keep herself slimmer than she liked, her hair sleek and dark brown, and her freckles covered as much as possible without looking heavily made up. None were easy feats. Her grandparents barely recognized her whenever she came home to visit.
The glamour ended once Geneva got fired. She embraced her unique features without letting herself go. Walking briskly every day replaced aerobic classes. Although not as slender as she was in Orlando, Geneva wasn’t as heavy as she’d been in high school, either. She’d found a happy middle ground that made her feel good about herself. She felt healthier, too. Her hair tumbled freely to the middle of her back in loose, red curls. They were a lot easier to keep. She didn’t have to worry about dye jobs, or mess with straighteners or curling irons. At thirty-three, Geneva no longer hated her freckles, either. She’d made peace with them and never tried to cover them up. When the sun touched them, she glowed.
Her emerald green eyes were her best feature. When she worked for the Starlings, she wore brown contacts to go with her brown hair. She felt the color coordination gave her a balanced, more natural appearance.
being the key word.
“Umph!” Geneva snorted. “There was nothing natural about me in Orlando.”
None of the changes to her appearance ever enhanced Geneva’s professional abilities. Nor did they change her personality or direction. Underneath the glamour, she was still Geneva Passion, country girl from Holly Park, harboring a secret crush on the handsome, smart, and successful Elliot Starling.
Geneva came to a shade tree and sat down. After seven years, she still wondered what it would have been like to marry Elliot Starling. Her heart pitter-pattered beneath the cottony bodice of her sundress. She still carried a torch for the guy despite her eagerness to refute it.
She picked up a twig and broke it in pieces then tossed it away. The feisty movement yanked Russell from his frolicking. He trotted over to Geneva and put his head in her lap.
“Why do I even care, Russell?” Elliot Starling was probably married by now, she thought. The idea drew a dark circle around her. Elliot had too much going for him not to have found a wife by now. Besides being the most gorgeous guy on the planet, he was smart, wealthy, and generous. He came from a devout Christian family, too, which meant a great deal to Geneva.
Before being fired, Geneva had felt Elliot drawing close to her. He’d say something at a party or compliment her at a meeting that made her heart skip a beat. There were times when she’d see him glancing at her when he thought no one was watching. His secretive attention was flattering. Then it all fell apart the morning he fired her. She’d been wrong about everything. His intense anger and reluctance to hear her side had proved it.
Geneva picked up another twig and snapped it into several pieces. She’d been silly to think a man like Elliot Starling could like her. She’d let her imagination run wild every time he smiled at her. Elliot Starling represented all the dreamboats in high school who had teased her relentlessly. If he’d been captivated by her at all, it was only because she had glamourized herself. He wouldn’t have wasted one single smile or compliment on her if he’d seen the real Geneva Passion.
“No more!” Geneva tossed the broken twig into the wind and stood, furious with herself. Russell jumped out of the way. “I don’t need Elliot Starling!”
Geneva glanced at the empty roadway. At least no one but Russell was around to hear her chiding herself. With her thoughts in place for the time being, Geneva marched home, resolved to put Elliot Starling out of her head once and for all.
It wasn’t that easy. Over the next few days, Geneva had to stay busy in order to accomplish her goal. She cleaned the entire inn from top to bottom. Curtains, rugs, closets, wood floors, and all. Her constant busyness wasn’t lost on her grandfather.
He mentioned it Thursday when Geneva collapsed on the front porch swing. “You usually don’t do this much cleaning between retreats unless something’s bothering you. It’s that Starling fellow isn’t it?”
“What on earth makes you think that?” Geneva redid the sloppy ponytail she wore with a jerk and a yank.
“Kind of hard not to know these things with all the mumbling you do.” Perry chuckled. “I heard you mutter his name several times this week. It’s obvious he’s on your mind.”
“Umph! If he is, it’s not in a good way!” Geneva’s fussy tone didn’t convince Perry.
“After all these years, you still let him get to you.”
Geneva huffed. “Elliot Starling isn’t getting to me, Grandpa! I hardly ever think about him. I don’t know why he came to mind this week. He just did, but I’m over it. I’ve got a big retreat coming up, and I’ve got to focus on it.”
“Whatever you say, sweetheart.” Perry nodded, still unconvinced. He knew his granddaughter too well. She didn’t waste time mulling over people she didn’t care about.
“It is what I say,” Geneva growled. “If I mumbled Elliot’s name a time or two it was probably from exhaustion and frustration. I still can’t believe he’d let me go for no good reason! His actions were incomprehensible. I had not had an affair with my client!”
“I believe you, honey,” Perry said, flatly. “Sounds to me like the man might have been jealous.”
“What?” Geneva gasped.
“Jealousy can make a man do regretful things.”
Geneva scoffed. “I highly doubt Elliot Starling was jealous, Grandpa! That would be absurd.”
Rick and Jewel had left Elliot alone most of the week at Elliot’s request, but Friday morning when Rick called the hospital, he got a pleasant surprise. Elliot wanted to see him. Rick saw that as a good sign, but the feeling disappeared when he reached Elliot’s floor at the hospital. Olivia was storming down the hallway like a brush fire on a hot, dry day.
“I’m so mad I could spit nails!” She boomed at Rick despite ill patients in the rooms around them. “He won’t talk to me! He says I upset him! Can you believe that? I’m his fiancée, and he doesn’t want to see me. I’m meeting caterers today. Things have to be finalized. I’ve hired an orchestra for Pete’s sake. Rick, you’ve got to make him remember me!”